Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship

by Dr. T. David Gordon

A. Argument from the Limits of Church-Power (Bannerman makes this argument well)

  1. Brief description of the argument. The Church is an institution; instituted by the positive command of the risen Christ, and authorized by Him to require obedience to His commands and participation in His ordinances. The Church is given no authority to require obedience to its own commands, and is given no authority to require participation in ordinances of its own making. The Regulative Principle of Church-Government lies behind the Regulative Principle of Worship.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Mat. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 1:24; Rom. 14:7-9

B. Argument from Liberty of Conscience (Ed Clowney makes this case well)

  1. Brief description of the argument. To induce people to act contrary to what they believe is right is sinful. Further, God requires us to worship Him only as He has revealed. Therefore, to require a person, in corporate worship, to do something that God has not required, forces the person to sin against his/her conscience, by making them do what they do not believe God has called them to do.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13

C. Argument from Faith (John Owen makes this argument compellingly)

  1. Brief description of the argument. Where God has not revealed himself, no faithful response is possible, by definition. And, without faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, God cannot be pleased by worship which is unfaithful, that is, worship which is not an obedient response to his revelation.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Rom.14:23; Heb. 11:6, and entire chapter.

D. Argument from the distance between the Creator and the creature (Calvin and Van Til drive in this direction in all of their writings; and, interestingly, so does Barth)

  1. Brief description of the argument. God's ways and thoughts are above ours as the heavens are above the earth. What makes us think we can possibly fathom what would please God?
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Isa. 40:12-14 Deut. 29:29; Isa. 55:9; Prov.25:2

E. Argument from the character of God as jealous

  1. Brief description of the argument. God's character as a jealous God is introduced into texts which prohibit certain things (creating images) in the worship of God. Thus, the prohibition of creating graven images or any other likeness of anything in heaven or earth is grounded in God's character as a jealous God, and thus is not grounded in some peculiarity of the Sinai covenant.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Ex.20:4-5; 34:14

F. Argument from those passages where piety is described as doing exclusively what God wishes.

  1. Brief description of the argument. In many passages, the wicked are described not as doing what is contradictory to God's will, but what is beside His will. Similarly, the pious are described by their trembling in God's presence, by their doing exclusively what God wishes.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Isa.66:1-4; Dt.12:29-32; Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15; 15:3-22

G. Argument from the severity of the temporal punishments inflicted upon those who offer to God worship other than what He has prescribed.

  1. Brief description of the argument. There are places where people offer worship to God, in an apparently good-faith desire to please Him, yet they do so in some manner not prescribed by God, and His punishment of them is severe.
  2. Sample of relevant texts--Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15

H. Argument from the sinful tendency towards idolatry (Rom. 1).

Paul's point in Romans 1:19ff is that the human race, in its revolt against God, has "worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Further, this is not due to ignorance, but to moral defilement: "Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks?" cf. Thomas E. Peck, Miscellanies, vol. I, pp. 96-97: "Man, then, is incompetent to devise modes of worship, because he knows not what modes are best adapted to express the truth or the emotions which the truth is suited to produce."

I. Argument from Church History

  1. Brief description of the argument. Church history amply demonstrates that fallen creatures, left to their own devices, inevitably produce worship which is impious. Especially the Reformation, as an historical movement, bore testimony to the corruption which creeps slowly into worship when worship is not regulated by the revealed will of God.

This material appears here with Dr. Gordon's permission.